words // Lettie Stratton

photo // Mike Worthington

Cumbancha: An impromptu gathering or party

Jacob Edgar is a busy man. A music researcher for Putumayo World Music and host of the PBS television show “Music Voyager,” it’s a wonder he has time to run Cumbancha—his own record label, booking agency, and music publishing business. With Cumbancha, Edgar travels all around the world in search of exciting world music to bring to the ears of new audiences both at home and abroad.

Edgar grew up in Plainfield where he took advantage of his parents’ eclectic record collection and cultivated a passion for music of all kinds. His interest in travel began at a young age as well. Edgar always traveled with a guitar or trumpet in tow and as a young adult played songs in the streets—discovering and using the universal language of music to meet and connect with people from different cultures. “Music opens doors,” he says. “It often provides a common interest.”

Whether a love for travel and exploration inspired Edgar’s enthusiasm for world music or a love for music prompted him to go out and explore the creativity of other cultures, the starting point does not seem to matter. For Edgar, music and travel have always been connected. After graduating from Oberlin College, he searched for a way to fuse these two interests and found that a master’s degree in ethnomusicology would allow him to do just what he wanted: follow melodies, beats, and lyrics around the globe.

Operating out of an old farm barn in Charlotte, Edgar’s Cumbancha has exposed audiences to world music since 2006. With floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed full of thousands of CDs (and bathroom shelves displaying a collection of toothpastes from around the world, each tube presumably with its own memory or adventurous tale attached), Cumbancha’s headquarters is a dreamland for music aficionados and travel fiends. Cumbancha certainly turns audiences on to new music and new places; the label inherently fosters an appreciation and respect for diversity. “Music can tell you a lot about a place,” Edgar says. “Often what you find out is surprising.”

Readers may be surprised to learn of the hardships that often inspires the musicians and music Cumbancha produces. Edgar works with a wide range of artists, each with their own story of discovery. Although some are very famous within their home countries, others are unknown and ignored. Many hail from places threatened and challenged in the face of globalization—places where they must fight against discrimination and attempts to hold onto their musical heritage. According to Edgar, music is an effective tool with which to address social issues such as these.

When working with groups such as Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars or Central America’s Garifuna Collective, Edgar’s goal is to help these musicians revitalize their expressions. Oftentimes, Cumbancha’s helping hand has assisted the musicians in transcending societal and/or cultural confines and has led to international touring success. “I approach success from all angles,” Edgar says. “Whether we’re recording here in Vermont or in a thatched roof shack by the sea, I do this because of my love for music and my love for the cultures it comes from.”

Cumbancha works with artists who have both a message and widespread appeal. According to Edgar, the artists he selects make music you can listen to with your child and with your grandmother. “I’ve always said my dream and my goal with Cumbancha is to introduce the world to the next Bob Marley,” he commented. Edgar may not have found him or her yet, but surely, there are many worthy musicians in all corners of the world awaiting Cumbancha’s inspired and respectful notice.

For artist profiles, events, videos, and more information about Cumbancha, visit